Can the situation of the freedom of speech in Bulgaria be improved?

The illegal economic and political pressure on journalists has acquired epidemic proportions, and trading in influence has become a major business for many media, show polls of the Association of European Journalists-Bulgaria.
These observations are confirmed by the annual ranking of Reporters Without Borders, which proves that the perception of journalists is of an increasingly diminishing freedom of speech in Bulgaria. Due to this situation, the country comes in the disastrous hundredth position worldwide, which is unacceptable for an EU member state. The situation could possibly be improved, yet this requires urgent action by everyone concerned.
We urge the government institutions to assume their share of responsibility for the termination of these negative trends. After the unprecedented confession this week of Member of Parliament Delian Peevski that he owns certain media and that they were used for providing a so-called “umbrella” over select individuals, the Prosecutor General must seek the immunity of both Peevski and the other person implicated in the scandal – MP Tsvetan Tsvetanov. An investigation must be carried out concerning the information, that a corruption crime, namely trading in influence, has been committed through the media outlets in question. It is necessary to clarify in exchange for what was this “media umbrella” provided, and whether there is evidence of bribery or extortion and blackmail. Given that the name of the Attorney General was also implicated in the scandal between the two MPs, it is necessary to ensure that Sotir Tsatsarov would have no bearing on the investigation and that it will be carried out in the most transparent way for society.
The lack of effective self-regulation has an undeniable contribution to the deterioration of the media environment in Bulgaria. The existing model needs an upgrade, but it should be brought to functioning once again and should not be replaced by a new code instead. There is reasonable doubt that the latter was designed to privatize self-regulation. One can hardly rely upon the recently adopted “Professional Code of Ethics of the Bulgarian media” drawn up by the Bulgarian Media Union to act as a moral corrective, given that the core of this organization is made up of precisely the media, whose owner acknowledges are used as an “umbrella”.
It is beyond doubt that the legal regulations in the sphere of the media must also be improved. For the adoption of new legislation in this area, however, Parliament needs to enjoy a high degree of public trust. Otherwise there will remain a suspicion of attempted political control over the media. Unfortunately, the current Parliament does not meet this requirement and therefore it is not advisable to place on the agenda the consideration of press law or media law in general. There could be, however, some legislative changes related to the regulation of political advertising in order to avoid cases of usurpation of broadcasting air for political purposes, as we have seen recently. It is reasonable to adopt clearer rules in order to bring to light media ownership. It is clear that the Ministry of Culture is not coping with the job of ensuring the accuracy of data submitted by print media to the Property Register.
Of course, a significant part of the responsibility for the media environment lies with journalists themselves. We would like to urge colleagues to be honest to the maximum extent with themselves and with society. Sooner or later, those who abuse their journalistic position in pursuit of other objectives are unmasked.
Last but not least, the improvement of the media environment depends also on consumers and advertisers. If you advertise in media outlets that have gained the image of notorious propagandists, of traders in influence or simply of servile doormats, it will eventually have a negative impact on your business. Dear consumers, do not let yourselves be lied to and be critical of everything you are served. At the beginning of the year we witnessed a glaring case of the media accusing an absolutely innocent man of murder. Boycott such publications – do not read them, do not watch them, do not advertise in them!

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